There’s a severed arm on the floor about five feet from where I’m writing on my laptop. Next to it, there’s a zombie stuffy and three really ugly black rats. I kind of hate it all, but my daughter? She loves it.
Halloween is in full swing and my kids are totally digging it. They’ve been taking in all the Halloween movies (my daughter is full-out obsessed with The Nightmare Before Christmas), decorating our house with spiders and ghosts and jack-o-lanterns, doing Halloween crafts and we even made a halloweeny gingerbread house.
I keep waiting for the ball to drop. Something is going to end this love for everything creepy and dark. Something is going to cause a nightmare or make one of them cry. Something is going to finally cross that line.
So far, it hasn’t. But I’m still left to wonder, where is that line? How much fear and gore is too much for young kids at Halloween?
I honestly haven’t really been forced to face this in previous years. Halloween isn’t really what it used to be. For young kids, it’s typically filled with princesses, cute animals and a superhero or two. They have a play date, go trick-or-treating and are in bed (mostly) on time. So this year, when my daughter took a liking to all the scary stuff at the dollar store and wanted to decorate with severed body parts, skulls, giant spiders and rats, I wasn’t really sure how to respond.
The more I thought about it, the more I loosened up and allowed her to run with this holiday in her own way. While I’m not going to let her watch any horror movies or take her to some crazy haunted house where things get a little too real, I finally can see some value in letting her experience this holiday for what it is.
The way I see it, there are two major things that Halloween does for our children.
The first is that it allows them the chance to really flex their creativity. Whereas other holidays just kind of happen (Santa shows up with gifts, the Easter Bunny shows up with chocolate) and it’s already determined what’s going to happen and they’re dressed up in the holiday jammies we get them or the pretty dress we want for photos, Halloween is up to them.
They get to pick what they’re going to be. And it doesn’t have to be even the littlest bit conventional. This year, my daughter is going to be a witch knight. She has a witch costume that she really wants to wear, but she also has a knight helmet and sword that she thinks is pretty awesome. I told her to pick one, and she combined them. I love it. Her thinking isn’t limited in the same way mine is. She can be anything, and she’s really going for it.
They also can practice so much creativity in crafts and decorating. Our windows, doors and yard are all covered in things our daughter thought would be fun and “spooky” for other kids. We have spider webs with giant spiders. We have pumpkin garbage bags full of leaves. We have ghosts. We have No Noggin (from a Curious George Halloween movie). And she is so proud of her decorations every time we leave the house.
For a kid who isn’t super in to art projects, It’s amazing to see how she has taken to this task and the pride she is taking in it.
Second, this holiday teaches them to overcome their fears in a safe environment.
Halloween is loaded with things that scare them. Monsters, spiders, ghosts, scary stories… it’s what this day is all about. And just because they’re common on this day, it doesn’t make them any less terrifying. But it DOES challenge them to embrace the fear they feel and face these things head on. Once they do, they usually come out laughing or with a fierce determination to do it again without screaming.
I don’t know about you, but my kids lead pretty sheltered lives. They get told of dangers around them when we don’t want them to do something, but very rarely do we ever let them explore those dangers for themselves. When they tell us they’re scared of something, we usually just validate that fear and eliminate it from our household (within reason). We decide for them what they should be scared of and protected from.
Halloween turns this on its head and gives them the chance to explore their own fear response and tackle it, which is a pretty important life skill. Life is scary. Being an adult is scary. Making decisions is scary. And knowing how to embrace that fear that is buried deep down inside us and embrace it? That’s powerful.
So, as much as I hate those rats that she is playing with all the time, I like what they represent. So I’m going to let it fly and push my boundaries this Halloween. Kids are great at giving us cues, so as long as we can follow those cues and make sure our kids aren’t hitting a place of real stress and terror, Halloween is a great opportunity for them to flex those independence muscles and gain some life skills. I might even teach them a trick or two.
Brianne Zwambag is a full-time boo-boo healer, snack artist, janitor, referee, master storyteller and child stylist in Fort St. John, B.C. who sometimes gets a chance to sit down and write about life, mommyhood and the issues that surround it.